Sound Transit recently released their Long-Range Plan Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS). It supposedly “evaluates the potential transportation and environmental effects of implementing the Current Plan Alternative and the Potential Plan Modifications Alternative using a 2040 planning horizon”. The plan proposes spending untold billions on Central Link extensions north to Everett and south to Tacoma and beyond to Dupont. The 2040 East Link plan includes billions for extensions to Woodinville, Issaquah, and Renton. It’s just another example of how they fail to recognize the reality of light rail in our area.
ST seems to believe they can replicate the very successful Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. They presumably knew a BART route provides trains with up to 10 cars every 4 minutes across the bay area bridge. They should have learned from a 2004 Puget Sound Regional Council report that the Seattle tunnel limited light rail in our area to 4-car trains, with 4-minute headways, or 60 cars per hour. The PSRC report also concluded the maximum capacity for the 74-seat cars was 148 riders or 8880 riders per hour, a fraction of BART route capacity.
Unfortunately, the costs of creating light rail tracks and power lines for 4-car trains are essentially the same as for a 10-car train system. Assuming the costs per mile of construction are similar, light rail here will cost 2 ½ times what BART costs per rider. It’s also difficult to believe that attracting 8880 riders per hour to trains will have a significant effect on I-5 congestion, particularly since most will be former bus riders. Any reduction in the number of buses on I-5 because of light rail will have a miniscule effect on congestion.
A 70-ft articulated bus can accommodate 119 riders. Seventy-five buses could provide the same additional capacity as light rail without spending a dime on I-5 construction. The added buses would also have a miniscule effect on congestion. They would not only eliminate the cost of construction and added equipment for the light rail extensions, they would result in lower operating costs. A light rail car costs ST $23.04 per mile to operate or $1382 per mile for the 60 buses, nearly twice the comparable bus cost, $10.00 per mile or $750 per mile for the same capacity.
It’s clear from their Prop 1 extension plans ST didn’t recognize terminating light rail at a University T/C and using Prop I funds to improve bus service along I-5 corridor could attract more riders than the far more expensive Lynnwood light rail extension. Their recent decision to expedite boring the tunnel to Northgate, a two-year project, for a light rail system that won’t begin service until 2021 is just the latest example. Their 2040 extensions to Everett add billions to the cost for constructing and operating a fatally flawed transportation system.
The 2040 plan for extending Central Link to Tacoma and beyond to DuPont is equally absurd. Only half of the 60 cars per hour through the tunnel will be available for the south end extensions. Thus ST will spend billions creating light rail extensions that will provide 30 cars per hour, the equivalent of 38 buses. Again the light rail operating costs per mile, $691, are nearly double the $380 for buses having the same capacity. Even more absurd the transit times on buses would be substantially shorter.
ST plans for the Prop 1 version of East Link are already beyond “absurd”. Like the Central Link south end extensions, the East Link extension will be limited to 30 cars per hour, a fraction of the 150 car-per-hour capacity of BART across bay bridge. (Even that number is questionable since it is based on 4-car trains whereas ST only used 2-car trains in last years test to demonstrate their new I-90 Bridge expansion joints.) East Link, which ST in the 2008 DEIS claimed was needed because “Transit demand across Lake Washington is expected to nearly double in the next 30 years”, will have the capacity of 38 buses per hour.
Its “difficult” to believe that anyone would spend $3B on a transportation project that will force closure of the I-90 center roadway in 2017, adding congestion to the outer roadway, and spend the next 7 years disrupting commuters and those living along the route through Bellevue to construct a light rail system with the capacity of 38 buses per hour.
Apparently not everyone in ST is aware of this limitation. The ST November 19th open house presentation to Mercer Island residents explaining their “Integrated Transit Plan” (ITP) indicated 84 buses per hour would be terminated there. (It’s not clear how many cross-lake bus routes will also be terminated at the South Bellevue Station) Those bus riders along with any MI commuters will both be attempting to find access on light rail cars that will likely be full before they even get to MI.
The East Link 2040 plan compounds the Prop 1 problem spending billions to add light rail extensions to Woodinville, Issaquah, and Renton. These extensions along with the Prop 1 route through Bellevue will have to share the 30 car-per-hour capacity across Lake Washington. Like I-5, the way to reduce congestion along 405 or I-90 corridors is to attract more commuters to buses. The fact that ST instead would propose spending billions constructing four light rail extensions on the east side when the total capacity across the bridge is 30 cars per hour, the equivalent of 38 buses, is beyond words.
In conclusion, ST will spend up to $20B on Prop 1 light rail extensions that will do nothing to increase I-5 capacity, devastates the route into Bellevue and gridlocks I-90 for the vast majority of cross lake commuters. These extensions will also require ST to spend 200-300M in annual subsidies to cover the shortfall between operating costs and fare box revenue. Their 2040 proposal spends additional billions on light rail extensions that will also do nothing to reduce I-5 congestion, reduces Prop 1 capacity through Bellevue, and will double the revenue shortfall for the entire area.
ST needs to recognize the tunnel limits on light rail and the reality that the only way to make it viable in our area is to terminate Central Link at a T/C at the University Station, limit any southward extension to 200th S, and replace East Link with a light rail extension to West Seattle. Their recent FESIS makes it doubtful they’ll ever do so.